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International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation

The Embassy of Ireland in Sierra Leone acknowledges the work of Sierra Leone's Forum Against Harmful Practices, civil society and gender equality activists across the country in marking International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM is a global event marked annually on February 6th with the aim of raising awareness and creating a dialogue that can lead to ending FGM. FGM comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons.

The practice of FGM is deeply rooted in gender inequality. It is a human rights violation that infringes upon the dignity and physical integrity of women and girls. Globally, it is estimated that 200 million girls and women living today have undergone some form of FGM. It is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15 and can lead to severe health issues and complications including death.

FGM is extremely prevalent in Sierra Leone. The 2013 Demographic and Health Survey highlighted that 89.6% of women surveyed had undergone FGM, a slight decline from 91.3% in 2008. Indications from the survey are that a higher proportion of rural women (94.3%) than urban women (80.9%) have undergone FGM. There are also indications that education and wealth affect a woman's FGM status, with more educated women and those in the highest wealth quintile less likely to have undergone FGM compared to women with no education at all and in the lowest wealth quintile.

Research from Sierra Leone also suggests that FGM is linked to other practices, such as child marriage, which are harmful to girls' development and contribute to high rates of early pregnancy and maternal mortality: 46.8% of maternal deaths in Sierra Leone are of girls between 15-19 years of age. In addition, these practices have implications for girls' completion of schooling, which can limit their potential and opportunities for career and vocational advancement.

Sierra Leone is a signatory of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), international treaties that recognise the rights of women and girls and the responsibility of states to safeguard those rights and end any and all discrimination that women and girls face.

In line with these commitments, in 2016, Sierra Leone's Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs developed a National Strategy for the Reduction of FGM. Approving and implementing this strategy will ensure that a coordinated approach to reducing FGM can be implemented across Sierra Leone in a way that emphasizes dialogue and community leadership, while also considering the sexual and reproductive health rights and needs of women and girls.

Achieving gender equality is at the forefront of Ireland's work, recognising crucial linkages between gender equality and sustainable economic development that includes all citizens. Women and girls are at the heart of the Irish Aid programme in Sierra Leone, with the goals of equality, inclusion and the empowerment of women and girls cutting across our programmes.

The Sustainable Development Goals call for an end to FGM by 2030. Sustainable Development Goal 5, for Gender Equality, sets out the target of eliminating all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation. Marking this Day of Zero Tolerance, UN Secretary-General António Gutteres called for "increased, concerted and global action to end female genital mutilation and fully uphold the rights of all women and girls".

Ireland and Sierra Leone are committed partners in the Sustainable Development Agenda. Ireland will continue to support initiatives that serve to protect and empower women and girls and that can contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 5: gender equality.

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